What is the Greening STEM Approach?

The Greening STEM model is an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to teaching STEM subjects that uses the natural environment and real-world challenges to engage learners and deliver high-quality STEM education. It is a student-centered approach to learning STEM content and developing a 21st century skills set. Greening STEM is an adaptable, hands-on, and inquiry-based approach where students take an active role in learning. Students can be tasked with different levels of responsibility from working as a team on a project to planning and leading a learning expedition. Greening STEM is an experiential approach to learning that encourages authentic problem-solving while making gains in environmental knowledge and engendering a stewardship ethic.

There are several essential components to the Greening STEM model. They include incorporating elements of placed-based learning, three-dimensional learning, project-based learning, and community-based learning.

Place-Based Learning Elements

Place-based learning is an educational approach that uses all aspects of the local environment, including local cultural, historical, and sociopolitical situations, and the natural and built environment as the integrating context for learning. In its most developed forms, it includes a clear focus on learning through civic engagement and participation in service projects of obvious relevance to the local school and community.

[The Center for Place-based Learning and Community Engagement, 2008]

Three-Dimensional Learning Elements

Next Generation Science Standards: Disciplinary Core Ideas | Science and Engineering Practices | Crosscutting Concepts

Research shows that effective STEM learning requires moving beyond just hands-on, inquiry-based activities to integrating different dimensions of learning into a comprehensive experience. There are three dimensions outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS): focusing on disciplinary core ideas, developing science and engineering practices, and unifying or cross-cutting concepts.

It should be noted that the NGSS are not a curriculum but expectations of the knowledge and skills learners should acquire. The NGSS align with the Common Core State Standards for English Language, Arts, and Math. A comparison of the different educational standards reveals some areas of overlap, including with a set of competencies referred to as 21st Century Skills. Development and mastery of these social-emotional skills are acknowledged as key to achievement throughout life.

Learn more about the Next Generation Science Standards (link: https://www.nextgenscience.org/)

Project-Based Learning Elements

The best practices of this instructional approach enable learners to master academic skills and gain content knowledge while developing 21st century skills and personal agency. The Greening STEM model uses a project-based approach that puts learners together in teams to explore a problem in depth, which helps them develop leadership, collaboration, and problem-solving skills. The experiential STEM, environmental education, and project-based learning components of Greening STEM are further enhanced by including a community-based learning component that connects what is being learned to the surrounding communities.

21st Century Skills: Communication | Productivity, Management, and Responsibility | Collaboration | Critical and Strategic Thinking | Leadership, Initiative, and Self-Direction
Community-Based Learning Elements

These elements bring cultural relevance and issues of equity and justice into the Greening STEM model. Learners are challenged to differentiate between environmental problems in need of solutions and environmental issues. Learners gain understanding concerning the nature of environmental issues—that people disagree about their resolution, and those disagreements are based on differing beliefs and values related to the issues. Incorporating environmental justice and social equity, learners are more likely to become intelligent consumers and processors of issue-related information.

The inclusion of cultural knowledge and skills in the Greening STEM approach is intended to ensure that issues and barriers that underserved and underrepresented populations encounter are addressed. Environmental justice and social equity will be hard to achieve without taking a look at how power and privilege contribute to the environmental challenges the next generation of Americans—even with a robust STEM education—will need to solve.

Cultural Knowledge and Skills: Self-Awareness | Cultural Context | Cultural Brokering | Power and Privilege | Social Equity | Environmental Justice
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